Have you been feeling anxious, a heaviness in the chest, fear, a sense of loss? You are not alone. While the pandemic has pretty much taken center stage in our everyday lives, mental health issues are rapidly developing in the shadows of the coronavirus.
David Kessler, a world expert on grief, recently told the Harvard Business Review, “We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different.”
While there are no studies showing how many people might be coping with mental health issues as a result of the situation, statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that, pre-Covid, “264 million people alone [were] affected by depression worldwide and between 76 percent and 85 percent of people in low- and middle-income countries [received] no treatment for their disorder.”
Dr. Iris Hertz, a psychotherapist who runs a practice in Bangkok, admits, “I am afraid many people are suffering from high stress levels, anxiety and depression. It’s a tough period for everyone, no matter how old you are or who you are. It’s really difficult for people to live with the unknown.”
She says that she doesn’t think most people talk about their mental state, because some are afraid to speak up, and that we have spent too much energy focusing on physical conditions and the illness itself.
One 47-year-old Bangkok-based banker, who wished to remain anonymous, illustrates the conditions that Hertz details above. “I’ve never felt this kind of heaviness, this kind of anxiety,” she says. “I started to create scenarios in my head, like I was going to be fired from my job, and then started to believe they were true.”
When she suffered her first panic attack, she says, “I felt like my world was collapsing; it even felt like I was having a heart attack.”

What does the future hold?

Experts across the globe have weighed in on the long-term impact of the pandemic on mental health. As Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told The Guardian: “The long-term mental health impacts of this unprecedented pandemic—on people with existing mental illness and other vulnerable groups, on the health and social care workforce, and on the healthy population—are not yet fully known but they may be equally unprecedented.”
Dujdao Vadhanapakorn, the influential Thai artist, empathy trainer, movement therapist and host of the “R U OK?” podcast, already sees potentially damaging shifts occurring in the way we live.
“We are now experiencing a change in routines, beliefs and values from the emergence of the new virus and the inability of humankind [to cope with it]. The way we do, think, see and sense are literally shifting inside us in order to find a new balance,” she says.
With an ill-defined “new normal” on the horizon, the question remains: what will happen when the lockdown is lifted—will we be able to go back to normal life and get back to our usual routines after our world has been completely changed?
“In the short term, people will be happy to go back to their routine but in the long term, I think it will be the opposite,” says Hertz. “People will be able to understand and digest what actually happened, but people will be more scared and anxious to be in public, to meet strangers, and it might affect ambitions to meet strangers or go back to normal social life.”

What you can do to feel well now

But the experts also believe there are ways we can confront this new state of being in a holistic way.
“Finding a state of mind where all those bits and pieces that are spinning internally can sit still for a while is a great way to calm our nerves and mind,” says Dujdao, listing a number of ways to get your mind in that right spot:
  1. Keep connections with nature. Make sure you have time to be with the sky, trees or soil just to allow nature to console your spirit.
  2. Keep connections with your loved ones, both physically and mentally. Spend time sharing your feelings and thoughts. Trust and connection with other human beings gives you a sense of security.
  3. Keep connection with work you find valuable.
  4. Clear your head regularly by putting schedules and tasks on a chart or paper. Try not to overuse your head by having so many plans unwritten. Visualize your tasks by using a mind map.
  5. Keep your body moving. Social distancing requires us to be less mobile. To keep your mind balanced, you should move or exercise your body regularly.
  6. Write a diary as a ritual to end your day. Having daily closure can help you process what’s left untouched. By doing this, you can go to bed with clear mind.
  7. Keep in touch with your breathing. This can help you rebalance your mental stability.
Hertz adds: “We need to remember that this will end, and Covid-19 will be a part of our life like many other diseases. Try to be optimistic and find the good things that might come out of the situation.”
She recommends trying to stick to your usual routine as much as possible, like waking up at the same time, working and eating at the same time, and staying consistent with your sleep. Stay in touch with friends and family members, as well as neighbors. Go out for a walk, and don’t forget to exercise. Most importantly, she notes, minimize your time reading the news.

Where to get help

The Cabin Bangkok
Specializing in mental health issues and drug addiction, the Cabin Bangkok offers professional and practical consultations and online counseling.
Social Security
If the hospital associated with your Thai social security has a psychology unit, you can get treatment for free.
Dr. Iris Hertz
Dr. Hertz offers online counseling and Skype therapy sessions, among other services.
Tune in to Dujdao’s “R U OK?” podcast, produced in partnership with The Standard.
The Center for Psychological Wellness
Founded by the Faculty of Psychology at Chulalongkorn University, this center offers mental health counseling for both groups and individuals.
Helpline 1323
Run by the Department of Mental Health at the Ministry of Public Health, this helpline provides 24-hour support to those suffering from mental health issues.

How to be there for others

Dujdao explains how you can help your friends or loved ones who are suffering a breakdown.
  1. Be non-judgmental. People who have breakdowns are suffering from many things. If they could choose, they wouldn’t want to have a breakdown.
  2. Offer your presence. If possible, offer a hand touch or a hug to be an anchor for that person. As physical touch is not always possible in this climate, offering eye contact is more than enough.
  3. Know how to react. If that person is having a panic attack, tell her/him to breathe in and out deeply together with you while maintaining eye contact. Your eyes can communicate that you’re there with them.
  4. If breathing together is not enough, you can tell her/him with a firm voice to look at you and instruct that person to sense the ground.
  5. Do not leave that person prematurely.
  6. Keep in mind that there are so many things going on in that person’s head and heart. Silence doesn’t mean there isn’t any communication coming from that person.  
  7. Breakdowns aren’t a time for life lessons, problem solving or arguments. They’re signs saying that that person cannot hold it in anymore and needs support.

Other ways to give your mind a break

Social media and news detox
Instead of focusing on the news 24/7, give your mind a break. If you can’t let go of your phone, at least follow more accounts that are positive and feel-good. Animal feeds are always a good bet.
Mindfulness apps
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Check out these five apps to explore the art of mindful living.
Stay active
Keep an active lifestyle and move around. Exercise is a proven remedy that helps fight stress and helps with sleep. Try these home workouts if you don’t have access to a gym.
Stay connected with friends
Keep in contact with friends and family via Zoom. Better yet, throw a virtual party.
Support local causes
Support your local restaurants by ordering delivery or support a local charity. It will not only lift your spirits, but also help our Bangkok community. After all, sharing is caring.